The Boston fern (also known as Nephrolepis Exaltata or sword ferns) can be found in large areas of the world’s subtropics and tropics. They thrive in the rich soil, humidity, and shade of the jungle canopy.
A Boston fern is a great option for those prone to overwatering their houseplants or who want to make sure they live until you feel more confident in their parenting abilities.
Among houseplants, ferns are especially subject to environmental damage in dwellings, and few are long-lived as houseplants – with one great exception.
The Boston fern. It was a common living room decoration early in this century and is popular today, although it fared better in the cooler, moister houses of days gone by.
Tough and readily adaptable to relatively low light indoors, the Boston fern is a descendant of one plant in a shipment of the fern Nephrolepsis exaltata from Philadelphia to Boston near the end of the last century.
It was clearly superior to its mates, obviously a “sport” or spontaneous mutation, and was given the subspecies name Bostoniensis. It has been cultivated ever since.
Under moderately good conditions, it is a quick grower among ferns and will put out new fronds even during short days. Thus it needs more attention to watering than most houseplants.
There is a common saying that it can’t get enough water. This, of course, is an exaggeration, and like other plants, it can be killed by overwatering. However, when you do water it as the soil surface becomes dry, soak it thoroughly.
Some advice sinking it in a pail or tub of water. But it’s really more practical to pour water on top so it comes out the drainage holes and into the drip saucer; let the saucer stay in place for up to 15 minutes to allow the rootball to absorb as much as it can.
And though it is not strictly necessary in any but the driest air, spraying or misting helps it hold onto its fronds and even produce new ones.
Its fertilizer needs are modest and exist only when the plant has filled the pot with roots.
Either use a fertilizer solution half normal strength once a month during active growth or use a very dilute solution with each watering – one milliliter per liter or 1/ 4 level teaspoon per 160-oz. gallon.
Use a leafy plant or general-purpose soluble powder such as 28:14:14 or 20:20:20. On a small plant, use even this very dilute solution only on alternate waterings.
Small pots probably will need potting onto a size larger container after a year or so. Preferably, this should be done in spring.
But plants in four to eight or more-inch mouth diameter pots should be removed to keep plants looking good.
When they develop more than one crown, you can divide the plant, repotting in an unfertilized fern mixture or makeup one of your own with equal parts tropical soil and bark particles available as rooting medium for orchids.
On a pedestal pot holder by a bright window and where the plant may be given a half turn daily, it may grow fronds several feet long.
It thrives in a south or west window from October to March and in a north or east window from March to October.
Ordinary house temperatures and humidities are okay, but like other plants, it likes increased humidity with higher temperatures and a 2.7 to 5.5 C or 5 to 10 F drop in temperature at night.
It suffers under 7 C or 45 F and dies in frost. But when night-time lows are consistently over 10 C or 50 F, it will do well outdoors under high shade.
Boston fern tends to grow up as its old fronds die and new ones form from the top.
Eventually, you are left with the somewhat unattractive brown main stems and untold numbers of dead frond stems.
The easiest method to make it look better is to place your pot in a deep jardiniere that will hide it and support new fronds underneath.
Besides divisions of the crowns – really separation as the crowns divide themselves – Boston ferns may be propagated by rooting the runners, easiest on a sill where you have room beside the fern for the pot to use for rooting.
Ferns may also be propagated by spores – mature Boston ferns produce all kinds of them on the tops of “leaves.” But fern reproduction is peculiar.
Spores are not true seeds, but they do germinate on touching moist soil. When large enough to be handled, the tiny plants from the spores may be potted up.
It often takes a year to produce plants of any size this way, however.
Boston Fern Care
If you can devote your attention to a few details, Boston ferns can be one of the most beautiful yet easiest house plants.
Ferns can be found in the shaded depths of forests, but they do not require much light.
Hold them in a dark area of the house and give them light.
If you put your hand in front, the light creates shadows. To allow air to circulate the plant, place the fern in a fern stand or hanging basket. This will show off its graceful shape.
Although ferns love humidity, they can become sick from soggy roots. The soil’s top should be checked frequently. Give the fern water if it feels dry. You can increase the humidity by placing the ferns in a tray with moist pebbles or misting them occasionally.
Keep your fern well-watered and watered frequently. A houseplant fertilizer can be used at one-fourth of the recommended rate to feed it.
Sometimes, the fern may need to be trimmed. Trim the brown, old fronds that are part of the plant’s natural growth cycle.
If properly cared for, the Boston Fern will produce many lush green tapered leaves that drape gracefully from its center.
Plastic plant pots, compost that is not peat-free, and a bread knife are all you will need. If you divide your fern in spring or early, it may recover quicker.
Decide how many new plants or divisions you would like to start from the parent. Splitting a small plant in half is a safe way to do so. You can cut through the middle of the root ball, leaving the same number of leaves on each side.
Keep half of the leaves and half of the roots intact. Repeat this process to create more or fewer fern babies. Each division should be planted in a pot—firmen the compost around roots. Keep the plants moistened with water and out of direct sunlight.
Your Boston fern can be moved outside during summer, but you should bring it inside when the weather cools in autumn.
They can tolerate short periods of sitting in shallow water. This technique could be used if you are away for several days.
Direct sunlight can burn the leaves, so it is best to have a north-facing window or a shelf in the bathroom.
It is important to water regularly.
To be reminded to check on your Fern, set a 4- or 5-day alert on your smartphone.